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TERRORISM

Paris attacks suspect ‘didn’t want’ to blow himself up

The November 2015 terror attack in Paris was the worst atrocity ever seen in peacetime France. One of the men accused of behind it revealed in court that he had abandoned plans to use a bomb belt.

The last surviving suspected assailant in the 2015 gun and bomb attacks made shocking revelations in court.
The last surviving suspected assailant in the 2015 gun and bomb attacks made shocking revelations in court. (Photo by Benoit PEYRUCQ / AFP)

The last surviving suspected assailant in the 2015 gun and bomb attacks that shook Paris insisted in court Wednesday that he had “abandoned” plans to blow himself up with a bomb belt.

“I didn’t go all the way, I abandoned triggering my belt, not out of cowardice, not out of fear, but I just didn’t want to,” Salah Abdeslam told the hearing into the November 13, 2015 massacres.

The 32-year-old French defendant had met questions from prosecutors and plaintiffs’ lawyers with silence for around two hours before deciding to answer.

He had “promised” in a previous hearing to provide an explanation, Claire Josserand-Schmidt, acting for some of the plaintiffs, told him as she opened her questioning, adding that she wasn’t trying to “trap” the suspect.

Abdeslam at first said he was “very sorry” before agreeing to respond.

He reiterated that he had been determined to set off the suicide belt before “going into reverse” on the evening of November 13.

Asked if he had lied when he told people his bomb failed to detonate, he said “yes”.

“I was ashamed of not going all the way,” Abdeslam said.  

“I was afraid of the looks from the other jihadists. I was 25 years old. There you go, it’s that I was ashamed, as simple as that.”

He subsequently stopped answering questions.

Jihadists killed 130 people in suicide bombings and shootings at the Stade de France stadium, the Bataclan concert hall and on street terraces of bars and restaurants on November 13, 2015, in France’s worst peacetime atrocity.

The trial is the biggest in modern French history, with hundreds of plaintiffs.

After surviving the attack, Abdeslam fled to the Molenbeek district of Brussels where he grew up, but was captured in March 2016.

Alongside Abdeslam, co-defendants are answering charges ranging from providing logistical support to planning the attacks, as well as supplying weapons.

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CRIME

Trial starts in France over 2016 Nice truck massacre

Eight suspects go on trial on Monday over the July 2016 attack in the Mediterranean city of Nice where a radical Islamist killed 86 people by driving a truck into thousands of locals and tourists celebrating France's Fête nationale.

Trial starts in France over 2016 Nice truck massacre

The attacker Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian, was shot dead by  police following the more than four-minute rampage when he zig-zagged down the  seaside embankment of the Promenade des Anglais, destroying lives in his wake.

The seven men and one woman who will go on trial in Paris are accused of crimes from being aware of his intentions to providing logistical support and supplying weapons.

Only one suspect, Ramzi Kevin Arefa, faces the maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted as a recurring offender. The others risk between five and 20 years in prison.

The trial, which is due to last until mid-December, is the latest legal process over the Islamist attacks that have hit France since 2015.

A Paris court on June 29th convicted all 20 suspects in the trial over the November 2015 attacks in the French capital which left 130 dead.

The extremist Islamic State (IS) group rapidly claimed the Nice attack, although French investigators did not find any links between the attacker and the jihadist organisation which at the time controlled swathes of Iraq and Syria.

While Lahouaiej-Bouhlel cannot now be brought to justice, the trial – as in the November 2015 case – marks a hugely important moment for survivors and relatives of the victims.

“It is better not to expect much from it so as not to be disappointed.

“Above all, we want a good trial, for everyone,” said Bruno Razafitrimo, who lost his wife Mino in the tragedy and is now bringing up their two young sons alone.

Of the accused, three suspects are charged with association in a terrorist conspiracy and the five others with association in a criminal conspiracy and violating arms laws.

The attack was the second most deadly post-war atrocity on French soil after the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Six years after the attack “the fact that the sole perpetrator is not there will create frustration. There will be many questions that no one will be able to answer,” said Eric Morain, lawyer for a victims’ association which is taking part in the trial.

“We are trying to prepare them for the fact that the sentences may not be commensurate with their suffering,” said Antoine Casubolo-Ferro, another lawyer for the victims.

Of the accused, seven will appear in court with one suspect, Brahim Tritrou, tried in absentia, after fleeing judicial supervision to Tunisia where he is now believed to be under arrest.

Just three of the accused are currently under arrest with one held in connection with another case. The defendants are a mix of Tunisians, French-Tunisians and also Albanians.

The trial will take place within the historic Palais de Justice in central Paris in the same purpose-built courthouse that hosted the November 2015 attacks hearings.

Some 30,000 people gathered on the seafront to watch a fireworks display celebrating France’s annual July 14th national day when Lahouaiej-Bouhlel began his murderous rampage.

The attack left permanent scars on the city of Nice, a byword for urban seaside glamour on France’s Cote d’Azur but which like the neighbouring Mediterranean cities of Toulon and Marseille has seen rising immigration and social tension.

Nice was struck again in October 2020 when a Tunisian Islamist radical stabbed to death three people in a church.

Nice mayor Christian Estrosi said: “This wound will never heal, whatever the outcome of the trial. This wound is too deep.”

According to French and Tunisian press reports, the body of Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was in 2017 repatriated to Tunisia and buried in his home town of M’saken, south of Tunis. This has never been confirmed by the Tunisian authorities.

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